Friday, October 16, 2009

How The Indians Are Excluded From The Agricultural Sector Systematically

By Naragan N.

Yesterday and today the last remaining structures of Kampung Buah Pala are to be torn down – the cow barns. The cattle farmers of Kampung Buah Pala have no alternative land yet. The cows are going to be stranded, literally in the streets. But who cares?

When a pig slaughterhouse was demolished in Kedah recently, the sole DAP rep in the Kedah State Government there caused an uproar by threatening to resign and the issue was immediately resolved. If the affected farmers had been Malay cattle farmers, they would have been courted and alternative land would have been provided by one of the several government agencies set up expressly for this purpose. But this is an Indian farmer and so no one really cares.

This is marginalization in real life and blood. This has been going on right from the beginning of Malaya, then Malaysia. Very systematic marginalization. Till today there is still no political will in the governing coalitions both at the Federal and the State level to resolve these critical problems. The only way we can see that these problems will be resolved is when the Indians get into the mainstream of National Development.

Let me try and briefly explain how the Indians have been blocked systematically from getting into the mainstream of National Development - in this scenario in the Agricultural sector contributing to the marginalization we so often speak out about. The real world effect of all this is what we see happening in front of our very own eyes – in KBP.

From the 1950s there has been significant development in the Agricultural sector spearheaded by government agencies such as FELDA, FELCRA, RISDA, FAMA and many others (see list of these agencies at the footnote).

And for these 50 odd years we all know how the rural Indian population mainly from the estates have been systematically pushed out and excluded from benefiting from any of these efforts. This was through the period of the fragmentation of the plantations (from the 50s through to the 80s) and then massive eviction from land as a result of the development of the land for various purposes (from the late 70s through to now). They have all been turned over into the urban poor.

All of this, through the working of the racist UMNO policies. In fact the NEP of the last 40 odd years, was supposed to erase identification of race with occupation. It has done exactly the opposite in the Agricultural sector. The estate Indians were thrown out of that sector and that sector has effectively been turned into a monopoly almost of the Malays. Billions and billions of our National resource has been spent in this sector over this period, but the Indians gained nothing from it all. This is a direct result of the policies of the racist UMNO -a Malaysian version of Apartheid.

Now a new and even more significant chapter is opening up in the Agricultural Sector and I suspect many of us are not aware of the significance of what is happening or about to happen. In just the last 2-3 years the development policy of the government has changed to accelerate development in the Agricultural sector to make it the 3rd engine of growth, besides Manufacturing and Information technology, the other engines of economic growth.

What this means is that there is going to be a tremendous amount of expansion in this sector. A further large amount of the national resource is going to be invested to develop this sector into the engine of growth – like the Multimedia Super Corridor effort, the e- Government effort, the CyberCities and so on to develop the Information Technology Sector. A total ecosystem is going to be created to facilitate the development of this sector. Billions and billions are again going to be spent to develop the potential in this sector.

The functions of the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-Base Industry has been increased and related agencies have been restructured to support and facilitate this strategic initiative. The stated objective is to evenly develop all aspects of supply chain management within the agriculture and agro-base industry – from seed production, production, post-harvest handling, storage, logistics, grading, labeling, packaging, transporting, retailing, wholesaling, marketing, branding, processing, up to the point where the goods are sold to consumers (from farm to table).

A ‘Cluster’-based development of zones of production not unlike the Fruits Production Zones, the Target Area Concentration, the Aquaculture Zone Industry and the Modern Agriculture Project and Permanent Food Production Park are also in the making. The same cluster based development effort as in the Manufacturing sector.

Marketing, Research and Development and Business Development are all slated for expansion in this sector. To enable all of this the Entrepreuner and Cooperative Development Ministry has been folded into the Rural and Regional Development (RRD) Ministry and new functions have been introduced into the RRD Ministry and its various units.

The Tekun program has been converted from an Enterpreuner financing agency to a strategic Entrepreuner development agency, now within the RRD Ministry. This is a significant program with budgets in the Billions of Ringgits.

The SMIDEC ( Small and Medium Industry Development Corporation) has been expanded and renamed to become the Small and Medium Enterprise Corporation. The National SME Development Council Secretariat Function of Bank Negara has been folded into the SME Corporation.

Bank Pertanian has been corporatized and now operates as the Agro Bank, the official disbursement agency for the government of all the funds going into the sector.

Special Bumiputra only financing schemes have been rolled out by various banks. One example is the SPED scheme of the Bank Rakyat. They give out loans from RM 30,000 to RM 500,000. One of the eligibility is unashamedly that the applicant must be a Bumiputra.

Various educational Institutuions such as University Putra Malaysia, UiTM, Risda College, Felda Academy are collaborating strategically to produce the skilled manpower needed for this expansion.

All of the above, without exception is meant only for Bumiputras with a few crumbs thrown out to the partner political party local heads and their relatives and cronies for their connivance to maintain status quo. Tell me if I am wrong.

I know several small Indian livestock farmers, a few aspiring young farmers and I can see that at best they get cursory assistance, not the womb to tomb kind of assistance that the Malay farming community gets or is about to get with all of this. These small livestock farmers operate on TNB land under power cables or on railway land or on some land like KBP, all waiting to be evicted someday destroying even that little participation in this part of the economy. There is very little benefit for the Indian farmers or aspiring farmers or Entrepreuners from any of these programs, in fact they are about to be obliterated from this sector totally, given what we see going on.

From all of this, you can see on the one hand, the scale of things that is happening in the country for the development of the Agricultural Sector – in what we call the mainstream of National Development. On the other hand,we know from whatever little is published or from our own experience that the Indians have been totally excluded from this mainstream of development.

This is how the system operates to to block Indians from the development process. They are left to be where they are and to use the little resources they have to try and get out of their predicament.

All of this must change. The only organization in the country that can speak up in these terms for the Indians now is Hindraf and the Human Rights Party. Please see the proposal for the 2010 Budget by the HRP-

Let us all get together in a way that will get us the change we all seek. There is a lot of trickery and lies around. We have to work against all of that to get to the truth, but we will get there.

Foot notes:

1. Bank Pertanian, MARDI, National Paddy and Rice Board (LPN), Fisheries Development Authorities, Malaysia (LKIM) , Muda Agricultural Development Authority (MADA) , Kemubu Agricultural Development Authority KADA, Farmers’ Organization Authority (LPP), KEJORA, KEDA, KESEDAR, KETENGAH to name a few among the notable on